I have before me a publication, at least 190 years old.
The book is entitled "The New and Complete Parish Officer," or "A Perfect Guide to Churchwardens, Overseers, Constables, Headboroughs, Tithingmen, Sidesmen, Borsholders, Beadles, and Other Parochial Officers Of Every Denomination". It states that it is "A Complete Library of Parish Law down to Easter, 1808". The Author was, Henry Clavering, Barrister-at-Law, it is the 8th edition and cost 4 shillings, there is a good Index. The preface says "Every Parishoner of Respectability usually becomes a House-holder, and every House-holder must naturally expect to be called forth successivley to undertake the Offices of Constable, &c. as well as to be afterwards elevated to the superior parochial Dignities". The various sections are arranged alphabetically, going from Affray and Assault, via Apprenticies, Arrest, Bastards, Churchwardens, to Constables at p.52. To Nuisance, Overseers, Roit and Rout, Unlawful Assembly and Vagrants and finally a supplement on the "Offices of Parson, Vicar, Curate and Parish Clerk".
A Judicial Decision of the Kings Bench is appended, this last emphasising the need for All Parish Officers to know their duties and the law, and, by implication, to possess this most excellent publication!
On the very first page, the original wrapper, is the name, 'W.Ellerby'. On the next, 'Thos.Ellerby' and 'Barton, 1809'. If this handbook belonged to Thos. Ellerby, 1809, I have made the assumption, (because I want to) that the Ellerbys acquired it because one or both had been selected as a Parish Constable by the local Justices, no doubt with the approval of the minister and other church officials.
The Ellerbys, Parishoners and Churchgoers no doubt, could have been Churchwardens, perhaps held some other office within the community. Thomas Ellerby must have been a St Peter's parishoner because his marriage in 1807 is recorded in the Parish Office to which he had been appointed. I choose to think he was the Parish Constable!
Churchwardens, chosen by the Minister and Parishoners, were specifically Guardians and Keepers of the Church entrusted with the care and management of the goods and personal property of the Church. They ensured the Parish Registers were kept by the Minister, could arrest unlicenced hawkers and pedlars, receive fines levied on persons for gaming, drunkenness and had duties respecting the Poor Laws.
But they were not Parish Constables.
This textbook is clear in the explanation of a Churchwardens duties, powers and responsibilities in carrying out their parochial Duty. Henry VIII ordered that collections should be made in Parishes for the Poor of the Parish. Elizabeth I went further and ordered that Justices should appoint Overseers with wide powers to deal with, among other things, setting the Poor to work, compelling Masters to accept Apprentices, e.g. to Chimney Sweeps, to serve on HM ships or at sea generally, also over, inter alia, Rating, Family matters, Property, sending any pauper from another Parish back to his/her own Parish. This last power being most rigorously enforced. A substantial householder appointed Overseer by the Justices could not refuse the Office. A very important section of the textbook is devoted to the powers, including arrest both with and without Warrant, and the duties of Constables, both High and Petty, within the Community at large. I quote "the general duties of constables is to preserve the King's Peace in their several districts, for which purpose they are armed as well by the Common Law as by the Legislature, with the very large and serious powers of arresting and imprisoning their fellow subjects, forcibly entering their dwellings and other extensive Authorities, which is highly their duty to excersise with becoming moderation and humanity." It also provides a clear exposition of the current law regarding Apprentices, Billeting of the Militia, Bastardy (in respect of the directions of the Justice) and, of course, mainly and more importantly, the Duty of a Constable to maintain the Peace. His powers, under the supervision of the Justices, are set out in a very clear manner. It might be apposite to reflect upon the rate of change in Society generally over the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries and the tremendous impact that the advent of printed information had on Society.
article supplied by Mr C Watkinson (more of this will appear in April 2002 edition)
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